SPECIAL ISSUE BLOG SERIES: Blog 5 – Digital platforms for the co-creation of public value

meijer & boonAlbert Meijer and Wouter Boon

The private sector is changing towards a new model of production: the platform model. Industrial companies, such as Ford, are regarded as outdated and digital technology companies such as Uber and AirBnB, are dominating discussions about organisational models. These tech companies rely on the platform logic for the production of services. They rule the world economy and generate huge profits for their shareholders. In our recent article in this special issue on Strategic management of the transition to public sector co-creation, we ask: if this organisational model is so successful, should the public sector not start using the same model to provide public value?

So what’s so special about the platform model? Central to platform organisations is their capacity to connect numerous users and coordinate their interactions. The hierarchic and sequential logic of the Fordist model is replaced by a horizontal and parallel logic. This mode of organisation is facilitated by platform technologies which process interactions between the many users accurately and fast. Our understanding of how this model works for the private sector is becoming firmly established but we still know very little about the value of this model for the public sector.

On the basis of insights from different academic disciplines, we propose a layered model understanding the potential contribution of digital platforms to the co-creation of public value. Specifically, we identify three basic configurations:

  1. Providing public value through a closed platform controlled by a private sector organisation. An example of this configuration is the American private sector platform InnoCentive. Through this commercial platform, many semi-public challenges have been articulated. For example, the challenge to find a biomarker to track the disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), organised together with the non-profit innovation organisation Prize4Life, attracted much attention. Although the company InnoCentive aims to make a profit, the focus on public problems ensures its contribution to public value production through platformed models of organisation.
  2. Providing public value through an open platform controlled by a government organisation. An example of this configuration is the platform Internetconsultatie.nl in the Netherlands. This website provides information about proposed new legislation and invites citizens to provide feedback and input for this legislative process. It provides public value by strengthening the democratic participation of citizens.
  3. Providing public value through an open platform run by a civil society organisation. An example of this configuration is the Open Knowledge Labs that are organised across Germany by the Open Knowledge Foundation. The labs organise hackathons in which coders, designers and citizens participate. They focus on visualising public problems such as which pollutants are present in tap water. It provides public value by strengthening a shared understanding of public problems as a starting point for finding solutions.

All these platforms can be understood as specific combinations of four elements: technology, governance, users and societal outcomes. Our analysis highlights that these building blocks can be combined in various ways to develop digital platforms that co-create public value. These findings help to demonstrate how platform organisations can produce significant value for the public sector.

You can read the original research in Policy & Politics:

Meijer, Albert; Boon, Wouter (2021) ‘Digital platforms for the co-creation of public value‘,  Policy & Politics, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1332/030557321X16115951032181

Read the other blog pieces in the series: 

Blog 1 – Public value as the game changer for co-creation of innovative solutions in the public sector

Blog 2 – Co-creation: the new kid on the block in public governance

Blog 3 – How public leaders can use co-creation to make things better

Blog 4 -Big dreams and small steps: regional policy networks and what they achieve

Read the entire special issue for free until 31 May 2021: 

Strategic management of the transition to public sector co-creation

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